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 Post subject: The Gulbransen Story
PostPosted: 29 Jul 2013 12:48 
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The Gulbransen Story


Gulbransen was founded by a man named Axel G. Gulbransen. He was a native of Norway and came to the United States in 1869 as a young boy. He went to work for the Melville Clark Piano Co. in DeKalb, Illinois, and learned the piano trade. This firm was later absorbed by Wurlitzer.

Gulbransen invented a player piano mechanism which could be installed in any existing upright piano. It was his feeling that there were some two to three million silent pianos in the United States and this presented a good market for him. He also supplied equipment to piano manufacturers so that they could produce a player piano. Gulbransen started his operation with $600 in cash and one used upright piano. He set up his shop in Chicago and began this business in 1904 and had early success.

About three years later, Gulbransen was approached by the Fort Dearborn Bank of Chicago, asking if he would take over the inventory of the defunct H. P. Nelson Piano Company. With the bank's help Gulbransen was able to buy the Nelson Company at ten cents on the dollar, and then begin manufacturing the complete player piano.

By 1917 Gulbransen was the biggest player piano maker in the world. Its slogan was "Easy to Play" and its trademark showed a baby operating the pedals. At that time this trademark was equally famous with Victor's "talking dog."

Gulbransen manufactured as many as 125 player pianos a day for a period of ten years or so. About 1929 the player piano business fell on hard times due to the advent of radio and better phonograph equipment, with the result that sales fell off very sharply and there appeared to be no future for the upright player piano.

Gulbransen then went into various mergers to make radios and clock cabinets for Laurens Hammond. None of these operations was successful and Gulbransen went into bankruptcy in 1932.

The company was reorganized and began once again to make console or smaller pianos and reed organs. The company was then under the control of S. E. Zack and George McDermott. These two men managed to build the company back to AAAl Dun and Bradstreet rating by 1950.

Gulbransen's organ history began as early as 1928, when it introduced a single keyboard instrument having 49 keys. It was a reed organ powered by foot pedals and sold mainly for family use in order to play hymns and that type of music. The market for such an instrument, however, was limited. In 1938 this reed organ was equipped with an electric motor to provide power, along with an amplifier, and this instrument continued to be built until 1942. At the start of World War II regulations forbade piano and organ manufacture. Only Steinway and Gulbransen were allowed to make pianos, for military purposes only. Gulbransen also made a reed organ in a portable form for chaplain use.

When the war ended, Gulbransen did not resume making reed organs because the electric organ industry was beginning to grow and the reed became obsolete. For some ten years following the end of World War II, Gulbransen concentrated its efforts on pianos only, and produced over 600,000 pianos in the course of its history.

The electronic- organ industry began to grow rapidly in the early 1950's, and Gulbransen management felt that the organ would continue to be a direct competitor for the pianos, and they were determined to enter into the electronic organ business.

In 1955 the services of Richard Peterson, an electronic engineer, were retained. Peterson spent over two years on research and development, and at the Music Trade Show in July, 1957, Gulbransen presented the first transistor organ equipped for the first time with self-contained Leslie speaker system. These two exclusive features gave the company a definite advantage so that it was able to gain a position in the organ market almost immediately. The company then began to place growing emphasis on organs rather than on pianos feeling its future in the long run would be in the organ industry.

In 1962, Gulbransen introduced the Rialto Theatre organ. This was another milestone for Gulbransen, and started a trend among organ companies in the manufacturing of horseshoe-style consoles. The style, and most importantly the tone quality of the instrument are still remembered and respected by organ owners today.

In 1965 Zack and McDermott, who were getting old, wished to sell their interest and, on January 2, 1966, the company became the property of the Seeburg Corporation. In 1971 Seeburg sold Gulbransen to a private group who discontinued the manufacture of pianos entirely to concentrate on organs, and under this private group Gulbransen prospered.


Gulbransen Rialto II Theatre Organ

In September of 1973, Gulbransen was acquired by the Musical Instrument Division of CBS, Inc., and under new management has continued to grow and prosper. The worldwide demand for the Gulbransen organ has led to the expansion of the manufacturing facility, thereby doubling the size of the plant, which houses some of the latest production equipment and techniques. This growth has also led to expanded facilities for Sales, Marketing and Engineering, plus the adaptation of sophisticated computer control systems.

During the development of the various organs throughout the history of the company, many firsts in organ design and features have been presented in the Gulbransen organ, Some of these are: all-transistor organ, built-in Leslie speaker system, electronic theatre organ, authentic piano voice, automatic rhythm, instant playback, Walking Bass and the Player Organ, the first organ that plays from a computer-programmed tape.

The latest and most dramatic development has been the Rialto II Theatre Organ. Although in production only a short period of time, the Rialto II is setting the standard of excellence in tone quality. The full, rich, lush sound of the Rialto II carries forth the tradition of the Gulbransen sound. Coupled with the latest proven technological advances and quality workmanship, the Gulbransen organ still stands for the symbol of the finest sound in organs.

(Based on a story in Hurdy Gurdy magazine in 1981- RIP Gulbransen)



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 Post subject: The Gulbransen Story
PostPosted: 20 Dec 2013 20:19 
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 Post subject: Re: Gulbransen
PostPosted: 23 Dec 2013 01:33 
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During our time as a Gulbransen dealer, the UK importer of the brand was Boosey Hawkes (Electrosonics) in St Albans ... we were duty bound by our dealership agreement to refrain from advertising Gulbransen organs, nationally, at prices below that of MRP which was £6,919

There aren't many recording around on the Rialto II but I did find a couple of nice videos of a 'home organist' playing at his Gulbransen Rialto II :D


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When Boosey & Hawkes and Gulbransen parted it was a 'messy divorce' ... B&H Electrosonics were lumbered with a shed load of Gullys they didn't want - the new company set-up for the distribution of Gulbransen wasn't interested in taking any surplus stock that B&H had at the time - so myself and Vince approached Bob Grant and did a deal for the lot ... it included around 9 or 10 Rialto II's which we had great pleasure in selling, and advertising in the national press, for 3,995 quid .... it was also done with the full blessing of Boosey & Hawkes :wink:

They, Boosey & Hawkes, were very good to us ... those Rialto II's were invoiced at £800 ex vat per unit

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 Post subject: Re: Gulbransen
PostPosted: 23 Dec 2013 18:56 
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My Dad had one of those back in the late 60's or early 70's. It was black. Very impressive looking. He later traded it in on a Hammond.

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 Post subject: Re: Gulbransen
PostPosted: 24 Jan 2014 16:27 
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Hiya Wally,

I bet that was a nice looking piece of kit ... the ebony instruments always attracted the dust by the shed load :wink:

I don't think Gulbransen did the ebony finish as a standard, they start out as one of the standard wood veneered models, Walnut, Maple, Mahogany and the like ... they did quite few finishes, even a 'distressed pecan' I seem to remember.

The ebony finish was almost always a sprayed-up maple cabinet, they applied two or three coats of black enamel, and to finish it in a gloss, a coat or two of clear varnish was further applied after a copious amount of polishing :D

Would have been nice to have seen an Ebony finish ... I only ever saw the 'brown' ones :lol: :lol:

All the best,

Mike

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 Post subject: Gulbransen Organ Company
PostPosted: 06 Mar 2015 17:54 
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Quote:
The Gulbransen Company ... by Frank Pugno

The Gulbransen Company began operation in 1904 producing pianos and reed organs. Their trademark of a baby operating the pedals of a player piano with his hands was well known.

In July 1957, Gulbransen introduced its first electronic organ. This was the Model B (Model 1100), a spinet that was the first transistor organ in the industry. It must be clarified that in these early transistor instruments, only the tone generators were transistorized. The amplifiers still operated with vacuum tubes (valves)

Gulbransen pioneered several innovations that became standard in the industry and are listed here:

    * First transistor organ
    * First self-contained Leslie speaker system
    * First Chimes stop
    * First Piano stop
    * First automatic rhythm
    * First automatic walking bass

A special note on that mysteriously named Omega control. What is Omega anyhow? I know Omega is the last letter of the Greek alphabet, the letter “U”. Omega is simply Gulbransen’s trade name for sustain. It offers a wide range of sustain varying from a very short reverberation to the long fading away sound of a chime. They used the last letter of the Greek alphabet to imply that this was the last word in sustain control.

The most famous Gulbransen organ is the Rialto (Model K). This consists of two 61-note manuals and a 25-note pedalboard. It is a horseshoe theatre console with two sets of generators. Two Isomonic Leslie speakers came as standard equipment with the organ. This organ has a true theatre organ sound.

Gulbransen eventually merged with Seeburg, and then the entire operation was absorbed by C.B.S. Gulbransen is now a division of Mission Bay Investments producing Elka organs with the Gulbransen name. They also manufacture a digital hymn performer that is in use in many churches. Do not ask me my opinion of this kind of organist replacement.

What follows now is the complete 1957 brochure for the Gulbransen Model B organ. This preserves an important milestone in the industry, as transistors were the first step toward integrated circuits and the microchip. Special thanks to Marie Glazar for her kindness in sending this original brochure.


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A few words about Frank Pugno ... just after I started this site I made contact with Frank in US to gain his permission to use some of his great articles on the American organ manufacturers ...

Over a period of 15 months or so we communicated regularly and became 'internet' friends ... sadly, Frank passed away in late September 2013 - he was just 63 ...
I always found him a joy to speak with, a kind man ... his family, friends and the organ world will miss him greatly.

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